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Chuck Lorre: Make ’Em Laugh and Don’t Micro-Manage

Showrunner talks pilots, process and the shows that got away at Variety's TV Summit

How would Chuck Lorre define his comedy brand?

Three words: Make ’em laugh.

Lorre, exec producer of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly,” spoke about the comedy biz, pilots that got away and how he balances the workload of three series during a keynote convo Thursday held as part of the daylong TV Summit presented by Variety and the TV Academy Foundation at the  Sheraton Universal.

“I know that the daily effort of making a show is don’t waste a second of screen time,” Lorre (pictured above left) said in the one-on-one with UTA managing partner Jay Sures. “That’s  probably a mantra that I’ve believed in since I got in the business 25 some odd years ago. Don’t waste a second of screen time if you have an opportunity to put a show that big in front of a global, national audience, don’t waste their time. The implicit contract that’s made between a half-hour comedy and the audience is laughter. I won’t watch unless I’m laughing. If the audience isn’t actually laughing, then you’ve broken the contract. As the writer-producer you’ve not fulfilled your end of the bargain.”

Lorre noted that quality control is one of the toughest parts of juggling three series in production simultaneously. In addition, his Chuck Lorre Prods. last year inked a mega deal with Warner Bros. that calls for him to develop features, drama series and projects for cable as well. At present he’s shepherding another pilot for CBS, “Mom,” starring Anna Faris, that is likely to get a series greenlight.

“You have to stay honest and be honest with yourself,” Lorre said. “Is this really funny, or am I tired? Is this really funny, or is it derivative? Has it been on another show before? Is it generic, or is it just a knee-jerk kind of thing, or will it truly translate into a living room and cause laughter. … You can bullshit yourself dramatically when you’re making 24 shows in 32 weeks.”

Even with a new pilot in the oven, Lorre said he expects CBS to renew “Two and a Half Men” for an 11th season in the fall. He’s been through the grind of pilot season more times than he cares to remember, and he’s had his share of busted pilots. Most of them, he acknowledged, “deserved to be landfill.” But there was one strike out years ago that really bruised his heart. It was a romantic comedy for Fox dubbed “Two Families” that starred Laurie Metcalf and Brian Dennehy as a widow and widower who strike up a relationship.

“I was in love with the pilot,” he said. “I was truly in love with the whole thing, but it didn’t go. I love working with Laurie going back to ‘Roseanne.’ “

With time and experience, Lorre said he’s learned how to not be a micro-manager even as he remains an active force in all of his shows. He cites his role on “Big Bang” as a good example.

“Try to keep the bar as high as you can, but get out of the way, too,” Lorre said. “These shows are flourishing to the extent that I’ve let go of the death grip. This year on ‘Big Bang’ it’s been unbelievable with Steve Molaro, who started as a story editor — he’s now running the show as head writer, and the show is far better than it would have been had I tried to micro-manage it.”

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